By Jamie Bryson
The prosecution of Cllr Watton arises from his alleged participation in a peaceful protest parade held in Coleraine in April 2021. The protest parade came after a number of nights of serious rioting across Northern Ireland as frustrations over the imposition of the Union-subjugating Protocol spilled over.
Due to concerns that the serious unrest was going to spread to the area for which he is an elected representative (I would speculate there are far more people in Coleraine support Cllr Watton than who support the PSNI), the former loyalist prisoner sought to use his influence to instead encourage peaceful protest action- in order to avoid scenes of violence or justifiably angry young unionists/loyalists getting criminal records.
In his account provided to the Sunday Life, Cllr Watton outlined how he had liaised with the PSNI on the protest parade, and how they welcomed his intervention, only the later send a file to the PPS for his prosecution. However, this has shades of the flag protest whereby the PSNI facilitate (entrap) persons using their influence to shape events one moment, and then seek to prosecute them for their involvement in using the influence the PSNI encouraged them to use the next. Inherent dishonesty is as prevalent within the PSNI as their inherent pro-nationalist bias.
That is not to say all PSNI officers are the same. They are not. There are many fantastic, decent and honest officers at a neighbourhood policing level, however the positive work of these officers is often undone by the structural bias within the PSNI and the incompetence and/or political motivations of those at a senior level within the organisation.
There is a story to be told, which will be told soon I’ve no doubt, in regards to the particular issue of how senior management of the PSNI have systematically undermined the positive work of neighbourhood policing teams in many areas.
There will be few who will fail to remember how the PSNI colluded with the IRA and Sinn Fein over the terror funeral of Bobby Storey in June 2020, and ensured complete immunity from any criminal sanction for all republicans. Let us remember the six-months to “negotiate” an interview with republicans, and the extensive pre-interview disclosure provided weeks in advance of the suspects finally engaging in interview.
This treatment of republicans can be contrasted with the relentless pursuit of peaceful loyalist protestors, or Rangers supporters who celebrated the clubs 55th title win on the Shankill (see Jim Wilson’s policing article HERE). I need not point out that loyalists contacted over peaceful protest parades (and I was one of them- I refused to participate in their politically motivated charade) did not get a six-month negotiation, or pre interview disclosure weeks in advance, but that is hardly surprising given the two-tier nature of policing which fundamentally from the PSNI’s inception has had a core ethos of legitimising republicanism and criminalising loyalism.
Let us not forget we have a Paramilitary Crime Task Force (‘PCT’) which (in their own words) “does not investigate the PIRA”. It seems PIRA are a better class of proscribed organisation. I suppose the PSNI need some excuse to try and conceal the patently obvious bias.
The PSNI’s relentless Human Rights abuses against the loyalist community, and fundamental objective of criminalising all loyalist communities (by deliberately failing to appreciate that crime is crime is crime- it isn’t loyalist crime, it is simply crime), has slowly eroded the confidence and trust of even the most law-abiding of citizens within unionism. The PSNI are now to unionists/loyalists what the RUC (apparently) were to nationalists.
There has been ample opportunity for the PSNI to engage with the hard questions emanating from within PUL communities, and thus to face up to some genuine scrutiny rather than ticking boxes via mutual back scratching with gatekeepers. They have not done so. Again, this stands in stark contrast to their active engagement in nationalist communities (indeed the 20th anniversary of the PSNI was dominated by the PSNI placing emphasis on recruiting more Catholic officers- it seems the core objective shows no sign of changing).
In light of Zeigler  in the United Kingdom Supreme Court, the prosecution of Cllr Watton may not be quite as simple as the anti-unionist cabal which infects policing and justice believes it will be.
Whatever the outcome, policing’s relationship with loyalist communities will have been dragged further into the gutter. So effective is the PSNI’s strategies, they have even managed to turn against them influential older loyalists like Jim Wilson and Russell Watton, who were prepared to engage with the PSNI and give policing a chance. When even those older experienced heads are saying ‘enough is enough’ in relation to loyalism’s relationship with policing, that really tells you all you need to know.